Healing from trauma, regardless as to what that trauma is, is hard. It’s not even easy to put into words just how hard this work is. It requires so much strength and energy and time. I’ve been trying to ‘heal’ on and off for years; all my earlier attempts were completely unsuccessful, trying to heal from trauma while that trauma is still ongoing is nearly impossible, especially if your mind has successfully dissociated to the point where you can’t even remember all aspects of your trauma, even trauma that is still happening or the fact that it’s still happening. This time around, I’ve been working on this whole healing thing for about five years, since I exited/escaped. And as a result, these last five years have been complete and utter crap.
Trauma itself has such a massive effect on the mind and mental health; the brain works in such a way where it will do anything and everything to keep you alive, the thing it values almost the most is your own survival. Our brains, however, aren’t especially good at their job. They can and will fuck you up in the name of your own survival. And well, it worked, for me, but it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t incredibly fucked up and still am.
Basically, that’s what flashbacks and trauma related memories and pain and suffering is. Your brain is trying to give you a wake up call, trying to tell you that something is and was wrong and that ultimately you need to deal with it or everything is gonna be fucking terrible forever. A lot of people try and silence this, distance themselves from it, either through dissociation, drugs, alcohol, convincing themselves they love it and it’s a choice, self-harm, eating disorders etc. etc. etc. they try and funnel this pain into something else or just try and numb it out altogether.
I’m no professional, this is just my best understanding after everything my therapist has taught me over the years. Basically, the brain gives you flashbacks so you can process the trauma because unprocessed trauma will try and eat you alive. The brain gives you flashbacks and other symptoms of trauma so you can realise, on some level, just how much of a mess your life is and how unsafe people in your life are and how you need to try and get away from those people.
That’s what happened to me, slowly, in stages, but it’s what happened. When I was fourteen, I started getting flashbacks. I was still in a really fucked up point of my life, still being raped and abused on a regular basis by both my mum and my step-dad (despite them being separated at that point, though that’s definitely another post) and I was still being trafficked. Dissociation is a wonderful and weird thing, though. At this point in my life, I only really knew a few things consciously, clearly and consistently. I knew I was depressed, I knew I was having regular panic attacks, I knew I was self-harming, I knew I wasn’t eating, I knew I was drinking (and probably too much), I knew that I was always high and always needed to be high, I knew I was engaging in a lot of dangerous things (again, that’s another post), but what I didn’t know was why. I had no memory of the things that had happened to me and my dissociative disorder was so severe that I equally had no recollection of what was still happening to me. It was like, the me at school, the me during the day, was a completely different me than the one who went home and got sold to several men. One me couldn’t really, properly remember the other me and her experiences.
As I said, I got my first flashback when I was 14, a memory of what I now know to be the first time that my step-dad raped me, when I was 8. From there, I started to get more and more flashbacks about him and also about my maternal grandfather/my father. I still had no conscious recollection of the fact that my mum was also raping and abusing me and selling me. However, I did have flashbacks and memories that made it clear that my mum knew what my step-dad was doing to me and by the age of 16, after a few suicide attempts, some serious self-harm, numerous interventions by mental health services which were sooooo useful (if anyone has any experience of CAMHS you’ll know what I mean) and some seriously bad mental health, full on crisis days, I decided I couldn’t deal with any of it any more. I couldn’t deal with knowing that my mum would let someone do that to me. I couldn’t deal with the increased numbers of arguments with my mum, all the yelling, all the times she hit me, burnt me. I couldn’t deal with being treated like a slave all the time (if only I knew back then the extent of that), doing all the housework, doing everything in that house. I’d had enough and on my 16th birthday, dead on at midnight, I packed a few things into my school bag (mostly school books because I apparently still valued my education?!), called my dad to pick me up and went to my grandma’s house.
I got there and after long argued conversations over the phone with my mum, which included her telling them about my step-dad, with a typical my mum spin, namely that I’m a giant whore and I fucked her boyfriend, I finally got told that my grandma would think about me staying and both her and my dad kicked me out, past midnight, on to the streets and told to come back after school the next day.
The flashbacks built up to the point where I was able to realise enough and process enough of my trauma to try and make myself safe. It didn’t work, not completely. I had limited contact with my mum in the following years, but I was still being trafficked and hurt by her and her boyfriend, especially as he lived just round the corner from my grandma. While my brain put me through hell with the flashbacks, it was also trying to ensure my own survival.
It did the same five years ago. In the months prior to my eventually escaping and exiting, my mental health went to shit. I was getting constant flashbacks and this time not just limited to Paul and the things he did to me (memories of which eventually included some aspects of trafficking). I basically got the full play-by-play of my entire life. I eventually reached the point where my mum had been and still was trafficking me, I could remember client after client after client, I could remember my mum raping me and abusing me and hurting me, I started to make connections between the way my family and clients treated me and what my now ex was doing to me at that time. Despite putting me through absolute hell and crashing my mental health to a point where it had never been before, I was learning the lessons my brain was trying to teach me. I wasn’t safe. I wasn’t safe with my now ex. I wasn’t safe with my family. My life was in danger and it always had been.
This massive crash eventually made me make a decision. I had to leave, I had to escape. I had to cut off almost everyone and everything I’d ever known to keep myself safe. I had to not only make myself safe but I had to process the trauma and the memories and the pain or it’d kill me just as surely as they would.
I did leave, five years ago next week. And it was because of the flashbacks, it was because of what my own brain was doing to me that I did.
My brain screwed me over, though. It might have saved my life, but it’s now left me in a place where I cannot deny my own trauma. Where I can only dissociate myself from those memories to a certain extent. Where I know that I have to deal with or die from it.
I still get flashbacks, I still have dissociation, I still get severe anxiety and depression, I still can’t go outside without getting so panicky, feeling that everyone around me is either going to hurt me or has already hurt me.
This post has gone so off course. How do I always end up rambling so much?
I’ve been working on healing and processing trauma for the last five years, very seriously during very intense therapy. And it’s not easy. I’ve spent the past five years feeling like I’m fighting for my life, even if I’m not actually physically fighting for my life any more. Trauma work is so draining and so painful. One of the only real ways to process trauma is to relive it, fully, to be able to process what it was we experienced and what we were actually feeling at the time. Not relying on dissociation or numbing techniques. Really feeling it and then really processing it and then really healing from it. And that takes time, especially if you have a complex and extensive history of trauma. It takes time and it’s painful and you will hurt almost as much as you did when you were going through it.
I’ve been working so hard for the last five years and I’ve actually made so many significant steps, but I’m not done yet, I’m nowhere near done. Most of those five years were focused on just staying alive, building trust and safety, surviving the flashbacks and the suicidal ideation and the sheer mental hell that trauma leaves you in. I’ve only really been working seriously and consistently on traumatic memories for the last year or so, now doing EMDR to be able to really process them.
I need more time, I just need more time to be able to carry on working. For the first time in my life, I can see a future, I can see something other than what I’ve always known. I can see that ‘better’ that so many people keep promising me. But I need time, I need time to work on the trauma, to process it and heal from it. Bit by bit, I am working and even just working on the smallest aspect starts to make a real and noticeable difference to my life, but there’s still time to go before I am a real, functioning human being again (well for the first time, let’s face it).
I know that with a few more months of EMDR (if there’s anything even vaguely close to being a ‘miracle cure’ for trauma, this is it, seriously) I can be in such a different place than that I’m in now. Already I’m starting to see so many changes; I’m more confident, more assertive, I’m starting to be able to make eye contact, I’m starting to be able to communicate more clearly, I’m starting to value myself, see myself as worthy, I’m starting to think of the future in a way I just never have before, I’m starting to be able to go outside more often without breaking down with fear and terror of getting hurt again, I’m starting to be able to eat more consistently again – even in front of other people. But I’m not there yet, these progressions are time-sensitive, it doesn’t take a lot to knock me back again, especially because, in the short-term, the work I’m doing to reach these milestones is the exact thing that will knock me back again.
I actually really believe that I can do this. I can see the me in a few months time being so incredibly different from the me I am now. I’m working so incredibly hard. There aren’t even words to fully explain just how hard this work is. It’s like you have to completely break yourself down, destroy yourself over and over and over and over and over again in order to really closely examine those broken pieces before you can even attempt to put yourself back together.
It hurts, it hurts so badly. Each time I do trauma work I’m left suffering. I’m left with incredibly strong, vivid flashbacks; the kind where it’s almost impossible to ground yourself, the kind where it’s so hard to hold on to the here and now and convince yourself it’s not really happening, that it’s over and you’re safe. I’m left with such severe dissociation that I just lose track of everything around me; I can’t keep track of time or conversations or TV plot lines or just about anything. I have little to no focus and I basically become utterly useless. I’m left so depressed and anxious; I can’t sleep, I can’t make myself go outside, I can’t eat properly, I can’t find the motivation or energy to do much of anything. My suicidal ideation and my thoughts of self-harm increase massively. You can’t stare into hell without it looking back at you. You can’t focus on your own memories of extreme trauma and pain without feeling at least some of that pain and hurt in the here and now. In the long-term, this therapy is making such a massive difference to my life, but in the short-term, immediately after sessions and for some time afterwards there’s nothing but pain. That’s the price you have to pay to heal from trauma. You have to heal or it’ll kill you, but the pain of doing it can be so severe that it feels like it’s gonna kill you, regardless as to how good your therapist is. And I have a damn good therapist, who makes sure I take it at the right pace and I’m as grounded as possible afterwards, but that doesn’t change the fact that just doing this work is so beyond painful. The long-term effects though, it does work, I really am working towards getting better.
I’m not better, I’m not even all that close to being better, but I’m getting there and I’m working on it and I just really need the time and the freedom and the support to do so. And that leads me to the post I had every intention of writing with this and is now clearly going to be my next post, which will be posted tomorrow.